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Before the video shoot, become familiar with the song and any ideas desired by the musicians. Arrange a meeting with the artists to collaborate and brainstorm ideas. Ask about the song’s story or concept and any emotions behind the lyrics. Take notes. Keep an open mind and understand that the song may be very personal to them.
Consider shooting dates, locations, art design, and any needed performers. Visit the shooting location and meet with the talent beforehand. Always keep the budget in mind. If the ideas call for expensive art design and/or special effects in which you have no access to right off hand, see if they or someone else may supply them. If not, don’t plan to use it in the video.
When scouting locations, consider the power source for lighting purposes. Will you need to use more watts than the recommended amount? Where are the electrical outlets? Even if the outlets are close by, plan to bring extension cords.
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Development & Pre-Production
Have the music artist send you a digital copy of their song and the lyrics so you may preview it as many times as possible. Put the song on replay and keep it playing to learn every beat. Allow the music and lyrics to inspire you. Ideas will flow. Write down these ideas and formulate a screenplay, lyrics/audio on left side and the action/visuals on the right side. Make sure the chorus is written out so you may add action descriptions throughout the entire screenplay.
Give the musician a copy of the screenplay. Have them review it and plan a meeting to discuss any changes. Talk about the aspect ratio, color scheme, brightness and contrast, textures, art design, etc. Consider these before you edit. Remember: shoot to edit.
Think about the camera angles and movements. Storyboard the shots if needed. Consider what props and/or set dressings are needed? If you have the budget for an art department, see to it that these items will be ready for the days of the shoot. If not, either supply them yourself or make sure someone else may. Also, think about the legal issues, such as contractual agreements with the artist and/or studio; talent release forms (also extras release forms); location release forms and permits (contact the appropriate officials).
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Make sure to be ready by planning for the shoot days before the start. Plan for the unexpected by supplying extra batteries, lights, etc. Do you know what the weather is going to be like? Are you shooting outside where the weather may complicate your plans? Even if you’re shooting inside and the forecast calls for rain, you may run into problems - e.g. unloading equipment in rain can be a nightmare! Bring canvas.
Thoroughly go over the next day’s shot list, call sheets, etc. Refer to the screenplay. When everything is prepared, get a good night's rest before shooting the video. Bring the shooting script, shot list, call sheets, storyboards and the list of contact information for all talent, musicians, and crew members to the video shoot.
Make sure either you or the music artist or manager brings a stereo or some type of audio player and speaker system to play the song over and over again so that the artist can use it for lip syncing. If you’re shooting in a studio, see if they have an audio player that may be played over a speaker system.
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Plan to be early. Setting up always takes longer than the shoot itself. While you’re setting up, the music artist may rehearse or get in makeup/hair and costume. Play the song on the stereo while doing several dry runs to test the lights, composition, and camera movement, if any.
When shooting footage, capture various angles and shots. Composing asymmetrical shots are more dynamic than symmetrical ones. Capture the energy of the musicians and performers. Have the song play over and over and have the music artist run through it as many times as you see fit. If you need to stop the song to capture the first verse again, have someone ready to assist you with the audio system so you won’t be having to go back and forth.
Shoot cutaways of action, such as fingers strumming guitar strings, drum sticks on the cymbals. Where’s the most action taking place? Shoot it. The more footage you have, the better - even if it’s not preconceived or written in the script. Besides, you most likely will receive more ideas once on set, and working with extra footage serves as a great cushion.
If choreographed dancing is in the video, be sure to capture the dance from different angles and shots.
Take regular breaks. During breaks go over shooting script and call sheet and make further plans if needed. You may also want to capture a live performance at a public venue. Unfortunately, it’s a one-take shoot; however, if you make a mistake some of the footage still may serve as great cutaway shots, particularly a crowd’s positive reaction to the music. If you have another camera, use it - perhaps to capture a wider shot.
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Author's personal experience
Photos from author's private collection.